Philosophers On The Art of Morally Troubling Artists


The news over the past several months has been full of revelations of sexual harassment and assault by men involved in arts and entertainment and other fields (for lists of recently revealed cases, see here and here). The cases have brought to the public’s attention a variety of questions concerning power, justice, gender relations, privacy, business practices, and the responsibilities of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. When it comes to those involved in the arts, most of us come into contact with them largely as consumers, and so it is no surprise that one of the questions many people are discussing is this: how, if at all, should the moral transgressions of those involved in making art change what we think about, and how we act in regard to, their art?

For this installment of “Philosophers On,” I asked several philosophers—and one stand-up comic—to briefly share their thoughts on this and related questions. Their contributions should not be taken as their last words on the topic, but rather as prompts for further discussion of it.

Our contributors are:

I appreciate them finding the time, on rather short notice, to take part in this post. Their contributions are below.

(It has been a while since a “Philosophers On” post has appeared; I plan for the series to continue from here on in on a more regular basis. Suggestions for topics are welcome; email me.)

a scene from Woody Allen’s film, Manhattan (1979)


Flaws, Aesthetic and Moral
Eva Dadlez

So, I’m making a good faith endeavor to introduce my Contemporary Moral Problems students to arguments advanced against for-profit insurance and the contention that it incentivizes turning down claims. To that end, I pop Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” into the DVR. To my horror, the Miramax logo, followed by “Harvey Weinstein,” scrolls onto the screen. It is too late to fast forward. Crap.

Sexual harassment and misconduct by artists and art producers (Weinstein, Louis C.K., Spacey, Cosby, etc.) have raised questions not only about the film industry, but about how art appreciators should respond to the work of these individuals in light of the disclosures and admissions that have flooded every media outlet. And while “Sicko” is not art, my experience suggested that any work might be considered somehow tainted by association with a miscreant.

At least two distinct questions are at issue here. First there is a practical question regarding the decision to continue consuming the artist’s or producer’s work. This is a question about inclinations to boycott the work of people of whom one disapproves. In many of the preceding cases of performer misconduct, programs have been cancelled by networks in a kind of preemptive strike, prior to any organized protest. Such cancellation (and prospective boycotts as well) are not an indictment of the work, but of the artist or art producer. Programs were cancelled not because artistry had suddenly and radically diminished but because the popularity of the artist had waned for reasons unrelated to artistry.

The second question is less practical but more interesting to an aesthetician. Should our judgment regarding the work or performance itself be affected by such disclosures? Is a film less good if it is produced by a rapist, a role less expertly performed if performed by a harasser, a routine less funny if an exploitative exhibitionist performs it? It depends. More precisely, it depends whether the attitudes that we object to—perhaps attitudes according to which the above mentioned conduct is harmless or playful or permissible—are endorsed in the film or performance. That needn’t mean, of course, that any actor portraying a rapist must be thought to endorse rape or uncritical attitudes toward it. Nor need it mean that such subjects themselves are out of bounds. A work (or performance) might be thought to endorse a problematic attitude toward objectionable sexual conduct when it invites us to imagine conduct of that kind as attractive or funny or arousing or indicative of a turbulent and passionate character unfettered by restraints afflicting ordinary men. So far, that might provide an ethical ground for condemning a work. But many philosophers believe that such endorsements can undermine aesthetic or artistic worth as well.

In “Of the Standard of Taste” David Hume criticized works in which “vicious manners are described, without being marked with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation” (ST 246). We cannot, Hume continues, “enter into such sentiments; and however [we]… may excuse the poet, on account of the manners of his age, [we]…never can relish the composition” (ST 246). This incapacity or disinclination is thought by philosophers like Noel Carroll to identify an aesthetic flaw, for, Hume continues, a “very violent effort is requisite to…excite sentiments of approbation or blame…different from those to which the mind…has been familiarized” (ST 247). That is, the work or the performance may well have failed to elicit the emotional attitudes of enthusiasm or approbation that it undertook to elicit. (Inserting emergency after-the-fact reference here: this kind of imaginative resistance has been productively and provocatively discussed in the blog of philosopher Kathleen Stock, who recently posted “Imaginative Resistance and the Woody Allen Problem”)

The disruption of imaginative immersion is held by some (though by no means all) to have a conceptual difficulty at its basis. That is, our conception of the limits of moral permissibility may undermine our ability to imagine nonconsensual sex as a deeply satisfying expression of affection, just because we can’t imagine what we can’t conceive. We can, of course, imagine that characters believe their conduct is appropriate, even if we do not. But we cannot imagine it permissible ourselves unless we believe the permissibility of such an action or policy is possible (perhaps in the unusual context the fiction presents, or in an otherwise restricted range of cases), something which strongly suggests that moral (and probably other) attitudes transcend fictional contexts. In other words, works and performances can make us complicit in the attitudes they endorse. The endorsement of attitudes most are inclined to resist might be thought an aesthetic flaw as well as a moral one.


 

Enabling The Sociopathy No More
Carol Hay

Is it ok to enjoy art that’s made by sexist assholes? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m kind of sick of the question. I just don’t have it in me to sit through one more dinner party conversation monopolized by a mansplaining colleague bent on defending Woody Allen’s shitty movies. (I’m just gonna put this out there: most of those movies would suck even if they weren’t made by the child-raping, daughter-marrying, embodiment of narcissistic White male entitlement.)

Is it ok to enjoy art that’s made by sexist assholes? Does the art celebrate, elevate, or excuse sexist assholery? Then probably not. Otherwise, go nuts. I thought the poststructuralists had decided the author was dead; shouldn’t we just evaluate the content of the work itself? On the other hand, it seems to me the mere fact an artist happens to be a certain type of person—a female—has been sufficient to discredit the quality of women’s work for centuries. If it’s good enough for us, I figure it’s probably good enough for the assholes.

Does the assholery infect the work? I mean, probably. It’s not like there’s a shortage of art that wears its hatred for women on its sleeve. “Women live in objectification the way fish live in water,” Catharine MacKinnon reminds us. We’re surrounded by it, but we’ve also come to need it, and some days, even like it.

Women have proven themselves more than willing to consume art infected with sexist assholery. What other choice do we have? What else is there? We’re trained up from the beginning to identify with a male protagonist, illustrated so succinctly, and brilliantly, by the Bechdel Test (and its newer variant, the Sexy Lamp Test). Sandra Bartky called it “cultural domination”—the phenomenon whereby women are expected to identify with the abstract and universal subject for whom art and culture is purportedly made, even though this subject isn’t really universal, it’s male.

Most of the media explicitly pitched at women is garbage—chick flicks, rom coms, celebrity gossip, fifty shades of patronizing bullshit—and even if it weren’t a cultural wasteland we’d never notice because we’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid that tells us that anything by women, or for women, is inherently trivial, insubstantial, ephemeral. Real art, real ideas, are by men and for men. We’re supposed to count ourselves lucky to serve as their Muses, and any degradation required of us by the appetites of their genius should be given willingly, happily, gratefully. This is as close to greatness as any of us have any reason to hope to get: being jerked off in front of by an asshole.

The real kicker is that it’s also up to us to make this sociopathy okay.  And we do. We are So Good At Making Nice that we usually don’t even notice we’re doing it any more. We are so fucking good at our jobs that we’ve managed to make everyone—ourselves especially—forget how much work we’re doing. We dodge the drunken pawing, we laugh off the awkward innuendo, we meekly apologize for friendzoning the guy who has no right to our affections, we gamely pretend the superior isn’t flirting with us (for which Sartre accuses us of bad faith), we bend over backwards to avoid making men feel bad about themselves.

The only time anyone ever notices that something is amiss is when women can’t, or won’t, keep doing the work of smoothing things over. And now suddenly, out of nowhere, the cat’s out of the bag. Tastemakers, idols, the best and brightest of the intelligentsia: turns out they’re a bunch of assholes. Perverts. Scumbags. Just a year ago, we were able to explain away the “locker room talk” of the dude who happens to be the actual Commander in Chief, but for some reason we’ve now hit a tipping point and the accretion of male sins has become impossible to ignore. Every one of us has stories. #Metoo has laid bare the elephant in the room, skeletons burst from closets, dirty laundry flaps in the breeze. What’s rotten in our personal state of Denmark is sexuality itself—what MacKinnon started referring to more than thirty years ago as our culture’s eroticization of gendered relationships of dominance and submission.

Women are not food. We do not exist to be consumed by men’s insatiable sexual voraciousness. We do not exist to nourish the fragile egos of entitled men who look to us to make up for the stings of a world who refuses to bow down to their unrecognized genius. Our adoration is not a consolation prize nor a soothing balm for life’s disappointments. Our affections are not awards to be handed out to those deemed most successful.

We’re done with it. The endless stream of fungible sexbots is drying up, and we’re running out of ways to discredit the women brave enough to call these assholes out. In the words of the inimitable Lindy West, let the witch hunts begin.


Art Makes and Remakes Its Own Ethical Boundaries
David Heti

More or less, I find most of today’s conversation about art and morality to be pretty banal. I find it very hard to see how anyone actually concerned with art has any interest in the matter other than to put it to rest. For too long it has been too much of a distraction, and good artists should have better things to be doing (i.e. addressing) with their time.

The question What are the (permissible) limits of artistic transgression? can be answered only through art, or, perhaps more properly, the particular piece of allegedly “transgressing” artwork being questioned.

Any attempt to legitimate an artwork (in any way) by reference to a stand-alone code or ethics or standard outside of or other than the artwork itself is something to consider only for those who don’t care about art ultimately. But, then, the question obviously comes: why does their opinion matter?

In a 22-year-old interview with BOMB Magazine, art critic and old man Dave Hickey said, “simply put, the art and criticism that interest me seek to reconstitute what we think of as ‘good.’ Maybe you don’t have to be ‘bad’ to make good art, but I suspect that there is no need for art in an environment where we all agree on what’s ‘good’ and on what constitutes ‘good’ behavior.”

None of this is to say, of course, that criminal courts shouldn’t deal with criminal matters, or, similarly, that other kinds of courts shouldn’t deal with other kinds of non-criminal but similarly expressly legal matters. But, whether it’s for me to tell a guy who cheats on his taxes that he shouldn’t go out and finish his painting anymore, I think, is really beyond my scope. (And, sometimes, too, of course, “courts of ‘public opinion'” can be without rules of procedure, triers of fact, sentencing guidelines, and other such relics of Common, Civil and all other such Law traditions. Full disclosure, though, I am personally not a fan of Facebook.)

The good comic—good ethically and good aesthetically—is the one who calls into question, confuses and provokes the serious. For the comic, the serious is the mark of human folly, vanity, error, and excess. Accordingly, for the comic who cares for the comedic, it is an absolute horror—it is the absolute, the existential horror—that any comedic possibility could be unconditionally proscribed.

Finally, in general it doesn’t matter at all to me to know who or what is behind any work that I like (e.g. Kafka and Giacometti could have been better to their women; Heidegger, to the Jews). In the case of Louis C.K., though, I think back to Joseph Kosuth’s line from the essay “Art After Philosophy“: “a work of art is a kind of proposition within the context of art as a comment on art.”

In other words, Louis C.K. can tell a joke again, but it just better be a damn fine joke.


Non-Aesthetic Reasons for Engaging with a Work
Shen-yi Liao

Is a comedian’s moral failing a good reason to not watch their stand-up special?

To try to answer this question, we might start by asking whether the comedian’s moral failing make the stand-up special aesthetically worse. We run into complications quickly. On the one hand, philosophers have not really written about the relationship between a creator’s moral failing and their work’s moral defect. On the other hand, philosophers have written way too much about the relationship between morality and aesthetics of a work, such that the debate seems not only longstanding, but intractable. (FYI: My own take is that the relationship between the morality and aesthetics of a work is varied and perhaps moderated by contextual factors, but too many other philosophers disagree with me.)

But we can also try to answer this question by shifting our focus. In thinking about whether to engage with a work, we need not focus exclusively on our aesthetic reasons for or against doing so. In fact, with our limited cognitive and material resources, we often decide whether to engage with a work on the basis of non-aesthetic reasons.

For example, given that I have a Netflix subscription, I decide on the stand-up comedy specials to watch partly on the basis of what is available for streaming. That is, availability is a mundane non-aesthetic reason with which we decide whether to engage with a work.

It is important to recognize that there is also a moral dimension to mundane non-aesthetic reasons like availability. Stand-up specials—like all other human creations—are not produced or consumed in isolation. As is the case with many other facets of our society, the availability of works typically reflect, and are often determined by, the various structural injustices that our society has.

By my count, there are currently 194 single-comedian stand-up specials that are available on Netflix in the US. 82% of these stand-up specials feature men. Or, to contextualize the disparity another way, there are 35 stand-up specials featuring women comedians, and there are 5 stand-up specials featuring Louis CK.

To decide which engagements with works are worth our while, we should consider the various aesthetic and non-aesthetic reasons collectively. That is, we should not try to answer the question that we started with in isolation. A comedian’s moral failing is, after all, just one non-aesthetic reasons amongst many that contribute to our decision. We should ask analogous questions regarding our other non-aesthetic reasons. For example, we might also ask: Is the lack of availability due to structural injustices a good reason to not watch a stand-up special?


But Not Him, Surely
Kate Manne

This piece contains descriptions of sexual violence.

What should we make of the #metoo moment? As powerful man after powerful man with a history of sexual predation has gone down, it’s tempting to conclude that the ground has finally shifted. Another possibility: something has changed about the perpetrators. The obvious candidate: they have gotten older.

As such, they are much easier to cast in the common cultural script featuring the “dirty old man”—albeit a powerful variant of the trope, rather than a more pathetic figure.

But it is not as if sexual predators typically begin in their dotage, or even in middle-age. The typical sexual assailant begins to offend during adolescence, according to self-report measures. Moreover, even making an exception for statutory rape cases that are admittedly far from straightforward (morally or legally—of which more later), a significant proportion of sexual assault is committed by juvenile offenders. These offenders are overwhelmingly male, just as with older perpetrators.

The cases to make the most headlines to date bear this out. The allegations against Spacey and Weinstein currently date back to the early or mid-eighties (respectively). Spacey would have been around 24; Weinstein, about 30. Now we can envision each man as a sexual predator, looking back on it; we read the older him back into the narrative told by his victims who were hitherto silent. Yet when a woman came forward to testify that Ed Westwick, 30, had raped her three years prior, a common attitude expressed on twitter was: he’s too young and hot to be a predator.

Two more women have since come forward to testify against Westwick.

So why aren’t we talking about predators before they become so? Why are we so focused on uber-powerful older men, depicted as monsters, at the expense of recognizing where this tends to start—both statistically speaking, and in the cases of Weinstein and Spacey, specifically?

My hunch is that it has a lot to do with how protective we tend to be of boys and young men, when they are otherwise privileged in being, e.g., white, cis, and non-disabled, at least presumptively. We are extremely reluctant to depict these young men as wrongdoers, or even as doing serious moral damage. And, relatedly, we are highly sensitive to potential harms done to them across the board—sometimes quite appropriately so, in ways that should be extended to other groups, and sometimes at the expense of acknowledging those who number among these boys’ victims.

This sensitivity and protectiveness toward privileged boys in the US context is evinced by who men in positions of power seem to have to wrong before being held accountable. This is true both regarding sexual misconduct, and more broadly, in ways that suggest a diagnosis beyond homophobia (though this is doubtless a contributing factor). Trump was accused by numerous women of sexual assault and harassment, and made egregiously misogynistic and sexually objectifying remarks about women throughout his campaign last year. But it was his characteristically unhinged and sexually braggadocious remarks to the boy scouts of America this year that engendered unprecedented moral disgust and outrage from many hitherto supporters.

Similarly, consider what brought down Milo Yiannopoulos: his remarks about the sexual molestation he had suffered at age fourteen, by an adult male priest, as having done him little harm (on the contrary, he contended). It was vital not to let these gross and pernicious falsehoods stand, of course. But the public outcry was so strong as to cost Yiannopoulos his book deal and position at Breitbart. Whether or not this was the correct outcome (and bearing in mind the fact that victims of sexual abuse are often groomed by their abusers to believe such false exonerating narratives), this was hardly the first damning piece of evidence about Yiannopoulos’s character. After all, he had previously egged on his Twitter followers to abuse the Black actress, Leslie Jones, in egregiously misogynistic and racist ways. Though this got Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter, it was not until he was perceived as wronging privileged boys (by being nonchalant about the kind of abuse he himself had suffered) that many erstwhile supporters grew disgusted.

Consider too the victims of abuse by Catholic priests, among other religious leaders. The salient victims are boys, of course. But a significant number (as many as a third, by some estimates) of the actual victims are girls, who tend to be erased from the discourse.

In the case of a figure like Roy Moore in Alabama, she may also be blamed for seducing him—when she was fourteen, and he was in his early thirties. She is depicted as Lolita; he, as a modern-day Joseph, Daddy of Jesus.

So what should we do about all of this? Sometimes, the appropriate corrective is simply to extend as much concern to other victims as we have for those we envisage as prototypical boy scouts and altar boys: i.e., those who are white, cis, middle-class, and non-disabled, in the dominant collective imagination if not in reality. Moral concern and sympathy ought to be evenly distributed across gendered and other intersecting social hierarchies. But another danger is that we will elide the damage boys with this demographic profile do before they are men, typically to other, younger children, in the name of upholding these boys’ good names and bright futures.

Roxane Gay wrote, in her devastating memoir, Hunger, of the teenage “boys who were not yet men but knew, already, how to do the damage of men.” They had brutally gang-raped her during early adolescence. A prepubescent boy strangled his female classmate on the HBO television series, Big Little Lies; me too, I thought to myself, when I watched it. I was grateful for the permission to remember what had seemed to date unspeakable.

There are difficult questions about whether and how to punish and blame boys for such bad behavior, before they know quite what they do, depending on their exact age among other factors. But we must acknowledge what they do, and that they do it disturbingly often, statistically speaking. (And though girls are offenders much less frequently, when they are, the same of course goes for them.) We must not forget this for the sake of their victims—male as well as female or non-binary, and both former and future.


Some Thoughts On Art, Appreciation, and Masturbation
Stephanie Patridge

Recently, serious allegations of sexual misconduct have been raised against high-profile men, including male artists—e.g., James Tobak, Kevin Spacey, James Woods, Terry Richardson, and Louis C.K—these are, no doubt, not even the tip of the iceberg. Such public revelations naturally lead us to wonder how we, as appreciators, should respond to the creative works of sexually predatory individuals. One answer is that we should withdraw our financial support of these works to signal that such behavior is intolerable, and to undercut one main incentive for tolerating it (money). Still, success here depends on collective action, and given that on its opening weekend Daddy’s Home 2, starring Mel Gibson, outperformed industry expectations, conservative expectations seem warranted. Time will tell.

Still, we might want to know how, when confronted with such creative works, we should respond to the artistic elements of the works. There are two different questions lurking here:

first, might some facts about an artist’s moral character impact the appreciative-relevant features of their artworks/cultural products?
and
second, should our willingness to engage with these works from an art-appreciative perspective be affected by our knowledge about the creators?

Many will think that the answer to both of these questions is an obvious “no.” After all, Miles Davis, by his own admission, physically abused the women in his life. But, few would think that Kind of Blue is somehow made a worse jazz record by this fact, or that our enjoyment should be thereby disrupted. And, we might think that this generalizes to all such cases. But, the truth is more nuanced than this.

Let’s take Louis C.K.’s recent admission that he routinely masturbated in front of female colleagues. I will not bother to explain the troubling moral nuances of this case, but it is obviously quite bad. In light of this, we might wonder if in this case that the answer to either of our aforementioned two appreciative questions might be “yes”. Why might we think that it is? Well, in Louis C.K.’s case, art often imitates life in a way that might be thought to rightly bear on our interpretation of at least some of his comedic and directorial work. After all, masturbation is not an uncommon theme for him. For example, in a stand-up bit about the sexual differences between men and women, he quips “I cum everyday, and I’ve fucked maybe twenty times in my life.” This line now seems to have taken on a new, perhaps unintended, expressive meaning.

We might say the same about his recent directorial work I Love You, Daddy. Here the main character—who pursues a relationship with a very young show runner, and is said to be thinly veiled nod to Woody Allen—spends an entire scene engaging in mock masturbation in the presence of an unwitting, female actress. Of this scene, film critic Kyle Buchanan says that it “cannot help but evoke some of the stories that C.K.’s accusers have just told.”

In this sort of case, moral facts about the artist not only legitimately affect our appreciative responses, at least some of us are more disturbed and less amused, but we might think that they should. Here, art imitates life in a way that will and should alter our appreciative responses—we will likely find it less funny, or at least funny in a different, more painful way. Moreover, we might find that it also affects our assessment of the appreciative properties and even the merit of the work. Given our knowledge about Louis C.K., I Love You, Daddy is plausibly less funny, and merits being reviewed to less acclaim than it would otherwise. It seems that sometimes facts about an artist’s moral life will affect our interpretation of, attribution of appreciative relevant properties to, and overall evaluation of an artist’s work. (A similar claim likely holds for at least some of Woody Allen’s work.) Of course, all of this is consistent with the thought that Kind of Blue is a note-worthy jazz album, since here there is no plausible claim to be made that we see Davis’ moral life manifest in his work, at least not in any troubling way. There are cases, and there are cases.

Finally, it is worth noting that there may be some moral violations that are a bridge too far, and so merit our rejection of an artist’s work altogether (whatever we’d say about their appreciative properties). This is not a wildly implausible suggestion. We might think that certain egregious forms of racism are like that. For example, we might think that were Hitler’s paintings moderately competent we’d still have a compelling moral reason to avoid responding to them positively. Whether or not Roman Polanski’s raping of female children is one such a violation, does not seem to be a settled moral question. Time will tell.


Aesthetics, Morality, and a Well-Lived Life
Matthew Strohl & Mary Beth Willard

Suppose you’ve been a Woody Allen fan since you were twelve. You’ve long related to his neurotic characters. You watch Hannah and Her Sisters every Thanksgiving. You’ve amassed a collection of his works on DVD. But in 2014, Dylan Farrow published her open letter, in which she accused Allen, her adoptive father, of molestation. You believe her. That’s awful. He’s awful. May you still partake of his artwork even while condemning him as a person?

In cases where one’s interest in the artwork is low or ambivalent, the choice might be easy. Attention is a scarce and valuable resource, and one can choose to spend it elsewhere. Sometimes, even in cases where one’s antecedent interest in the work was high, learning about the moral transgressions of the artist interferes with one’s ability to engage with it. For us, the tension between Bill Cosby’s wholesome image and our perception of him as a vile sociopath makes it impossible to enjoy the comedy routines we were fond of in the 80’s. In the case of Woody Allen, he sometimes casts himself or another older man as the love interest of a young ingénue, which may call to mind his alleged crime in a way that interferes with engagement with his work. On the other hand, we do not find that background knowledge of the accusations against George Takei, relates to his performance as Sulu in Star Trek in a way that interferes with our enjoyment of the work.

There might be a moral imperative to cultivate a disposition to dislike art that is created by morally reprehensible artists. If the disposition to dislike the artworks in question is a moral virtue, however, it may also be an aesthetic vice. A person who has such a disposition to a high degree would shut their eyes when they walk past Gauguin paintings in a museum, change the station whenever Bowie comes on the radio, and never, ever attend The Ring Cycle. Caravaggio? Murdered a pimp. Ezra Pound? Anti-semite. (We could go on. Many great artists are awful human beings.) Perpetually viewing art through the lens of the moral character of the artist seems likely to ruin one’s enjoyment of art. Someone who lives their life like this might be well on their way to moral sainthood, but at the expense of severely impoverishing their aesthetic life.

Questions of social utility are also relevant. The artists just mentioned are all long dead, but many morally reprehensible artists are still alive and kicking. Privately watching a James Toback DVD that’s you’ve owned for twenty years probably has no marginal effect, but buying a ticket to a new film arguably does. If a new Toback movie were successful, it might put him in a position to harm additional victims. In cases like this, moral considerations might well override aesthetic considerations, but other cases are less clear. Often, as in Woody Allen’s case, while a viral boycott might hold the wrongdoer symbolically accountable, it might also severely harm the careers of their artistic collaborators. One might think they have it coming to them for agreeing to work with Allen, but this seems like a harsh attitude to take towards, for example, a young camera operator whose judgment was understandably colored by an opportunity to move forward in their profession. Such considerations are not decisive, but they might give us pause.

In any case, we take issue with treating moral considerations as automatically overriding aesthetic considerations. Aesthetic considerations aren’t negligible. Aesthetic value makes an important contribution to a well-lived human life, and great artworks aren’t fungible. There’s only one Hannah and Her Sisters, and engagement with it as an artwork can add significant, irreplaceable value to one’s life. This isn’t a small thing to give up, especially when it’s not clear what doing so will accomplish.

The recent spate of public realizations about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct must restructure institutional policies going forward, but our private aesthetic lives are another matter. To be clear, we’re talking about enjoying the art, not defending the artist. (On the latter, we like Sarah Silverman’s take.) We don’t think there are easy generalizations available to guide our actions in this domain. We are left as individuals with the difficult, personal work of weighing the aesthetic and moral values in each case.


Discussion welcome.

(Comments policy.)

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Nate S
Nate S
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

I think Peter Adamson’s article teaches a valuable lesson: any detour into aesthetics in responding to these issues is a red herring. I’m not sure there is a unique problem of vicious artists; nearly everything you can say about the problems of engaging with the work of vicious artists can be said about the problems of engaging with the work of vicious philosophers.Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

A few thoughts, as there is far too much here to respond to in any comprehensive way:

1. The Cosby show was of tremendous importance in breaking the model of black-ghetto comedies and depicting a non-dysfunctional, black, middle class family at its center. It also was well written, well performed, and very funny. That this show should disappear, because of the revelations about Cosby is not good for anyone.

2. I wouldn’t have thought that the quality of “Annie Hall,” “Hannah and her Sisters” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors” would need to be “mansplained,” as it is quite evident to anyone who appreciates good film. (Certainly, the entire Allen oeuvre is not of comparable quality.)

3. There probably is a meaningful correlation between artistic creative genius and troubled to outright terrible personalities.

4. This — “Real art, real ideas, are by men and for men. We’re supposed to count ourselves lucky to serve as their Muses, and any degradation required of us by the appetites of their genius should be given willingly, happily, gratefully” — strikes me as a rather surprising statement. I would have thought that the following were all highly regarded and highly read:

Charlotte Bronte
Emily Bronte
Jane Austen
George Eliot
Flannery O’Connor
Simone de Beauvoir
Iris Murdoch
Ursula K. LeGuin
Madeleine L’Engle
Dorothy Sayers
Agatha Christie

I could go on, but these are just from gazing around the bookshelves in my office. L’Engle was probably the single most loved and important author of my childhood and pre-teen years.

In this venue, itmay also be worth remembering that the list of important and highly regarded female philosophers is also quite long.

5. It probably will be important not to lump together assholery with serious criminality or to stretch the latter to the point at which it includes every variety of the former.

6. Whatever we wind up deciding to do as a society on this question, I really hope that it will never come to the point that we cannot show students “Birth of a Nation” or “Triumph of the Will” as part of their arts studies, lest we seriously impoverish their art historical and aesthetic understanding. And this cuts against the notion that we can make an easy decision based on whether the artist’s badness is relevant to the work. Nazism is not incidental but essential to Triumph of the Will, but it is a masterpiece of cinema nonetheless and it would be educational malpractice for it not to be part of a film studies curriculum.Report

Michel X.
Michel X.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

On 4 – This is somewhat beside Hay’s point, but it’s significant that your list is a list of female *novelists*, rather than a list of great female artists across art-kinds (writing, and writing novels in particular, having been more easily accessible to women earlier than many other art-kinds). It’s significant that of the four who worked primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries, three wrote under a male pseudonym (indeed, in the case of George Eliot, even today almost nobody knows that her real name was Mary Anne Evans). It’s significant that they’re all from the 19th and 20th centuries, apart from Jane Austen who started her work in the late 18th. It’s significant that almost all worked primarily in low-status literary genres (some of which weren’t even considered literary at the time), like the gothic romance, novel of sensibility, science fiction, and mystery.

Similarly, you don’t really find a lot of female painters before the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and you don’t find any “great” ones whose status is akin to that of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, etc. (one or two post-1971 “rediscoveries” aside). Linda Nochlin’s great insight was that, contrary to what we usually like to tell ourselves, this has little to do with the quality of their output, and a whole lot to do with the (arbitrary) conventions of the time. Quite apart from all the social and institutional barriers to their artworld participation, women were relegated to low-status kinds of painting like still life, animal pictures, etc. So it’s no wonder we don’t have a canon of great women artists to go alongside our canon of male greats–there were none, because women’s artistic productions were by definition amateurish and trite.

A lot of the same kinds of things are going to have to be said about the “quite long” list of “important and highly-regarded” female philosophers, which is suspiciously light on the front end and in the middle bits.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Michel X.
3 years ago

As I said, I drew the list just by sitting in my desk chair and looking around my bookshelves. There was no effort or intention of being comprehensive. As I indicated, the list could have been a lot longer.

No one is denying the history of sexism or the fact that women have been excluded from much of art history. I was simply replying to what struck me as a wildly overstated characterization of women’s contributions and the perception of them; one that clearly was speaking of *today* and not 500 years ago.

Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

“The Cosby show was of tremendous importance in breaking the model of black-ghetto comedies and depicting a non-dysfunctional, black, middle class family at its center. It also was well written, well performed, and very funny. That this show should disappear, because of the revelations about Cosby is not good for anyone.”

The Cosby show stopped production 25 years ago. The theory that the reruns are important enough to justify putting money in Cosby’s pocket, or showing his victims that they just don’t matter enough, is implausible.

“This — “Real art, real ideas, are by men and for men. We’re supposed to count ourselves lucky to serve as their Muses, and any degradation required of us by the appetites of their genius should be given willingly, happily, gratefully” — strikes me as a rather surprising statement.”

I don’t know why you are surprised by that at all. The tired “literary genius” trope is generally applied to men, and has been for a long time, up until the current era. Certainly women can be good writers, or even great writers, but there still clearly exists the bias either recognized or unrecognized among a lot of people that the truly incandescently brilliant Certainly few people group Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers as “brilliant.”

Also, to take some of your examples:

“Charlotte Bronte”
First wrote under the male pseudonym Currer Bell.

“Emily Bronte”
First wrote under the male pseudonym Acton Bell.

“George Eliot”
IS a male pseudonym.

“Flannery O’Connor”
Wrote using her more masculine-sounding middle name rather than her first name, Mary.

Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  D.C.
3 years ago

Boy you’re just trying as hard as you can to reject any characterization of women’s achievements as significant and recognized as such. I would think thinks are bad enough without having to down-talk what good there is.

Although I’m not at all surprised.Report

Paul Whitfield
Paul Whitfield
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

You really think it would be “educational malpractice for it not to be part of a film studies curriculum”, Daniel? How do I understand that statement? A proposal for pedagogical policy? Hyperbolic emphasis of an example of your point? What’s the sort of read you’d give, so as to use you as an example of how to read your – and presumably others’ – work. I ask because I might know quite a few culpable educators. … Yes, that’s why I ask.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
3 years ago

I love the piece by Willard and Strohl, but I have one quibble with this:

“Privately watching a James Toback DVD that’s you’ve owned for twenty years probably has no marginal effect, but buying a ticket to a new film arguably does.”

It depends on how loosely one defines a “marginal” effect, I suppose, but I think it’s fair to say that your buying a ticket has about as much expected impact on Toback’s success as your vote does on Donald Trump’s success, which is to say, so close to zero that almost any other non-trivial normative considerations could very easily outweigh that effect.

In general, I think decisions about whether to boycott artists should be viewed in light of the sort of considerations raised by Mark Budolfson in his work on factory farming: https://b1bc346f-a-62cb3a1a-s-sites.googlegroups.com/site/budolfson/papers/BudolfsonFactoryFarms.pdf

In particular: “an individual’s decision to consume animal products cannot really be expected to have any effect on the number of animals that suffer or the extent of that suffering, given the actual nature of the supply chain that stands in between individual consumption decisions and production decisions; at the same time, an individual’s decision to consume animal products does have a positive effect on that individual’s own welfare.”

In almost all real-life cases, the same goes for an individual’s decision to enjoy the work of a morally vicious artist.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

“decisions about whether to boycott artists should be viewed in light of the sort of considerations raised by Mark Budolfson in his work on factory farming” only IF Budolfson were right about this, which he isn’t (also his view is more complex than that).

I wonder how you can explain a successful artist’s success other than, in large part, by facts about how many of their shows, movies, albums, etc. were purchased. I do not want to get into an analogy with voting because it’s quite different, but surely you don’t think there never is any meaningful causal link between supply and demand. Do you?Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

The way I see it, the morally relevant question is not whether the overall pattern of purchases explains the artist’s success (which it does, of course). The morally relevant question is whether my individual purchases could make a difference to whether the artist is successful.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

Independently, no, it is not sufficient to make a difference, but jointly with a sufficient number of other individual purchases, yes. The fact that it would not make a difference but for the others, and that the others would not make a difference but for it, does not make any individual contribution morally irrelevant. Isn’t this an example of mistakes in moral mathematics that Parfit warned us about?

I think Budolfson’s work is valuable in highlighting the extent to which individual actions are loosely connected to the ultimate outcomes of large-scale, complex, collectively determined processes. But it doesn’t show, nor does it purport to show, that there is no connection at all. Of course, loosening up the causal connection may also loosen up the moral connection, but it doesn’t cancel it altogether.

That said, there are many other functions that boycotts–signalling, enjoining, enrolling, etc.–can fulfill even if or when they are causally impotent, or causally weak enough that moral attribution ceases to be relevant.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

So your view is that I can be obligated to take an action X because it would contribute to a big group of people accomplishing Y, even in situations where I know that the group will not accomplish Y even if I do X (or alternatively, in situations where I know the group will accomplish Y whether I do X or not)?

I’m not saying I can’t see any merit in that sort of view, and I do feel the pull of some of Parfit’s examples, but at the end of the day I think your individual obligations concern the things you personally can control and not the things you can’t control. (That said, I am more open to a view on which groups might have obligations that don’t reduce to the obligations of their individual members.)Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

I don’t think I talked of obligations. Let’s say one has can have reasons to do X if, combined with others also doing X, this would likely produce a good outcome. It’s of course a coordination problem and it might be that, in fact, your doing X is neither necessary (because enough other people will do it anyway) nor sufficient (because not enough other people will do it anyway). But this is precisely one of the purported functions of boycotts—to motivate enough people to act that it likely produce the intended outcome. That said, I agree that many boycotts are ineffective, poorly motivated, and not compelling, and that whether it’s obligatory or simply optional to participate depends on many factors.

In the present case it’s far from clear that anyone has very strong reasons to abstain from consuming or enjoying these artists’ work, for reasons you mention. But it’s easy to imagine a situation in which an efficient boycott could induce a strand of sexual harasser-artists to stop doing things that most people openly disapprove of, in a society where it’s become harder to be a closet sexual harasser. Report

David Baker
David Baker
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

In most actual cases I would agree that you have *some* small reason to do X, insofar as you are uncertain about whether your action might make a difference to the results. But if you were 100% certain that there would not be sufficient participation from others to accomplish the good end, or that there would be sufficient participation to do so even without your contribution, I would say you have no reason to do X. Or rather, no reason having to do with your goal of making sure Y gets done.

If there’s some reason why it’s not just good for Y to happen, but also good for you in particular to participate in the overall cause of Y, then you would still have reason to do X, but that’s a different case.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

I grant that there are other functions that boycotts might serve, although I think in the sort of case we’re considering, those functions have at most a negligible amount of value that could easily be outweighed by the value of an aesthetic experience.Report

MC
MC
3 years ago

Carol Hay knocked it out of the park. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  MC
3 years ago

Really? “As close to greatness as” Mary Midgley, Philippa Foot, or GEM Anscombe had
“any reason to hope to get, is being jerked off in front of by an asshole”?

I think she sells women’s’ accomplishments and their widespread recognition wildly short, for the sake of rhetorical oomph.Report

Brea
Brea
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I don’t think she’s selling women’s’ accomplishments short. She is talking about how women- as consumers of media- are sold two (bad) ideas (by members and creators of the media): 1) art made by women isn’t good (or isn’t good enough), and 2) we should appreciate, consume, and recognize the greatness of art made by men (even after it’s revealed that some of those men have harassed, assaulted, and/or raped people).

It’s a bit much to suggest that she’d say that the best Midgley, Foot, or Anscombe could hope for is to have some asshole jerk off in front of them. I mean, sure, we can dislike the way she made her point but that requires getting her point right. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Brea
3 years ago

Given that she made no such qualifications, I see no reason why I should make them for her. She is a professional philosopher and is more than capable of making her point clearly if she wishes to.

I think I got her point perfectly right. And apparently, an awful lot of readers agree with me.Report

Brea
Brea
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I don’t think you’ve made clear here what you take her point to be. You indicated which statement came as a surprise to you and then listed a bunch of accomplished and notable women. I don’t disagree with you that they are accomplished, loved, or recognized. I don’t think Hay was trying to be dismissive of women’s accomplishments. Someone up there in the comments tried to pull out the same thing I did— that when it comes to media (films and television in particular), there’s a bias against women writers. Lots of stuff that’s coming out of Hollywood for women is crap and we buy into it sometimes.

You’re bringing in literary figures and philosophers and my point is just that those aren’t the people she’s talking about and she’s certainly not undermining *their* achievements.

The readers are agreeing with points you made that aren’t related to the content of what she wrote. Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Thank you for fighting the good fight, Daniel. Your interpretation is clearly correct here. One could argue the rhetorical oomph is justified (I wouldn’t), but it is beyond reasonable question that women’s accomplishments and their recognition is being wildly understated to make that oomph.

Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Eric Campbell
3 years ago

I think it is essential to keep pressing the issue, as that is how we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten. But to act like it’s 1940 and we haven’t gotten anywhere or even that it’s worse is to fail to acknowlede remarkable achievements and to actually undermine the motivation to keep going. Why make the effort if success is never recognized?Report

Mr. T
Mr. T
3 years ago

I think for the problem to be meaningful, we have to love the work in question to the point that we feel absolutely connected to it. If you believe that what we call “art” is potentially on the same level, or an even higher level still, than what we refer to as “morality,” then you will see the problem. If you don’t care about any of the artists in question or the work they have produced, or want to subordinate every piece of art to considerations of morality and politics, then you won’t get it. Of the pieces compiled here, I thought only one of them seemed to do justice to the issue here.

Claire Dederer’s piece (thanks for linking, Justin!) captures the importance of the art in question, and thus the whole predicament, better than anything else I’ve read. Take a look at her response to watching Annie Hall in 2017:

“I had watched the movie at least a dozen times before, but even so, it charmed me all over again. Annie Hall is a jeu d’esprit, an Astaire soft shoe, a helium balloon straining at its ribbon. It’s a love story for people who don’t believe in love: Annie and Alvy come together, pull apart, come together, and then break up for good. Their relationship was pointless all along, and entirely worthwhile. Annie’s refrain of “la di da” is the governing spirit of the enterprise, the collection of nonsense syllables that give joyous expression to Allen’s dime-store existentialism. “La di da” means, Nothing matters. It means, Let’s have fun while we crash and burn. It means, Our hearts are going to break, isn’t it a lark?

Annie Hall is the greatest comic film of the twentieth century—better than Bringing Up Baby, better even than Caddyshack—because it acknowledges the irrepressible nihilism that lurks at the center of all comedy. Also, it’s really funny. To watch Annie Hall is to feel, for just a moment, that one belongs to humanity. Watching, you feel almost mugged by that sense of belonging. That fabricated connection can be more beautiful than love itself. And that’s what we call great art. In case you were wondering.”
Report

Honestly Unsure
Honestly Unsure
3 years ago

Willard and Strohl ask whether ‘you’ may still partake of his artwork even while condemning him as a person? I’m a little worried, methodologically, about addressing this abstract individual. Someone abused as a child will be less inclined to watch a Woody Allen film now, and I wouldn’t like to impugn their choice. I think that, in the company of someone abused as a child, one should be less inclined on the margins to watch a Woody Allen. And likewise in the company of someone sexually harrassed by an older man. I’m not sure about where we reach the limits of sensitivity, nor am I sure where we pass beyond the limits of complicity. As we emerge painfully slowly from an awful period of ideologically entrenched patriarchalism in many different parts of our society, it seems to me that we should give significantly less weight to these familiar kinds of theoretical arguments, and more weight to the need for strident opposition.Report

Confused
Confused
3 years ago

Given the examples in Patridge’s piece, it *might* seem like she thinks that the immoral behavior of artists tends to negatively impact the aesthetic value of their works. I’m not sure things are so tidy.

Facts about artists’ lives, including their immoral behavior, sometimes make some interpretations of their work more plausible than others. So, immoral behavior should sometimes affect our interpretations.

But should these new interpretations lead us to view the work more negatively or positively? It seems difficult to say in the abstract, even in cases where the behavior is relevant to interpretation.

For example, I agree with Patridge that CK’s behavior may lead us to interpret the masturbation scene in his movie differently. But, without seeing the movie, it’s hard to know if this change should lower our regard for the movie.

Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Confused
3 years ago

The first sentence of my post above should have ended with the clause, “when it has any bearing at all.”Report

ikj
ikj
3 years ago

I’m interested in the problem presented by art that is morally troubling. Most reasonable commenters would allow that art is licensed to deal in the morally troubling. In some ways, it’s especially suited to that task precisely because art can produce emotional response that is at least a step removed from the real life consequences of bad behavior. So the question I have is, and this would seem to apply to Toback and CK particularly, is whether the actually immoral behavior of the artist taints work that is at its essence, or at least in part, already morally troubling? If the job of the artwork is to call moral presumptions into question, are we not at least a little hypocritical to be shocked when we find that its creators have behaved immorally? Might we be able to engage with such art through the lens of the immorality of the creator as a supplement to the morally troubling work itself? Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
3 years ago

This is much that is correct in Manne’s piece, but it bears reminding that the reason for the concerning for boys is not (or is not only) a view that they matter more. Rather it’s a function or norms regarding proper sexual conduct, You can see this in the ugly history of statutory rape laws in the U.S., where women couldn’t even be charged with statutory rape of a boy in many states until a few decades ago. There are cases from as recently as 2014 where courts hold men liable for child support for children sired when they were underage. The penalties for women in these cases are systematically less than those for men. This isn’t meant to show some kind of systemic anti-male bias. Instead, it’s meant to show that the norms are more complex: male rape of females is proper, while male rape of men is improper (possibly the fault of the victim), and female rape of males is impossible (its a victory for the supposed victim). Report

D.C.
D.C.
3 years ago

Woody Allen’s work is massively overrated, and even his allegedly “good” works tend to function as wish fulfillment fantasies for a certain kind of self-styled “intellectual” urban white guy. There, I said it.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  D.C.
3 years ago

As I said, “Annie Hall,” “Hannah and her Sisters” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” are excellent pieces of cinema; well written, excellently performed, and very funny. I’m sorry that you have to see things through such a uniformly bitter and programmatic lens to be unable to see that. Fortunately, the best critics have been able to, which is why critical opinion has been largely on my side on the subject (as the extended quote from Clare Dederer above on “Annie Hall” reflects.)

I am the son of Holocaust survivors and I am perfectly capable of appreciating the cinematic genius of Leni Riefenstahl. It’s too bad that it’s become so difficult for people today to adopt sufficient critical distance to be able to make dispassionate aesthetic and critical judgments. Its why criticism has become a shadow of its former self and descended into a degraded form of partisan politics and ideological posturing.

As for your remark in the other comment, you may think the condition of American blacks is so good in America right now that no one needs The Cosby Show anymore. I am not nearly as confident about things on that front as you are. So what you find “implausible,” I think is bloody obvious.

There probably isn’t much point in you and I going around and around on this. We have categorically different views of things and fundamentally different values. I doubt either of us will ever convince the other, and we’ve each very clearly stated our respective positions.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

“As for your remark in the other comment, you may think the condition of American blacks is so good in America right now”

First of all, please do not use the term “blacks”; it is a racially derogatory term.

Second, that is not an accurate reading of my post. You seem to be presupposing that 25-year-old reruns necessarily effective in improving the lot of communities of color, something so self-evident that the only reason I would not want them to continue to be reruns is because the communities are fine. Which makes very little sense.

As for Woody Allen, we can agree to disagree, though I will note that critical acclaim is often temporally and culturally insular, and movie critics of a class, particularly when Annie Hall was released, are/were not a particularly diverse bunch.Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

First of all, please do not use the term “blacks”; it is a racially derogatory term.
===
No it isn’t.Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

“I don’t see my preference for being called a black American as a way of denying or distancing myself from my genetic African heritage. Rather, I believe it acknowledges the similarities that do extend to all black people—in spite of our differences—as black people: the prejudices we can face from nonblacks (from police brutality to skewed standards of beauty) to the cultural influences we share with one another, like the aesthetic notion of “black cool,” traced to West Africa and translated more recently into black American art.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/07/black_american_versus_african_american_why_i_prefer_to_be_called_a_black.htmlReport

DW
DW
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I think the idea is that it’s derogatory to call people “blacks” just as it’s derogatory to call people “gays” or “Jews” or other terms like this. Generally you would want to say “black people,” “gay people,” and “Jewish people,” especially insofar as you aren’t a member of the group you’re referring to. See for instance the subtitle of this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/8-reasons-donald-trump-would-not-be-great-for-the-blacks_us_56e0729fe4b065e2e3d47e82

or this article: http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-the-blacks-the-gays-2016-10

or this article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-cant-fake-love-of-the-blacks/2016/08/30/82ad3f24-6ef2-11e6-8365-b19e428a975e_story.htmlReport

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  DW
3 years ago

I am a Jew. There is nothing wrong with referring to Jewish people as “Jews.”

If this is the level we’re at now, when we accuse people of being racists or their language as racist, then we really have reached rock bottom. Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  DW
3 years ago

Why is it derogatory? So instead of “he’s gay” I should say “he is a gay person”? What?Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

You can say he’s gay. You shouldn’t say “the gays.”Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  D.C.
3 years ago

According to you. Fortunately for all of us, you neither represent gay people nor belong to any language enforcement authority, so your opinion is your own and that’s about it.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

You’re really dropping the “this is just your opinion” in an internet argument? Seriously?

You represent nobody either. And your opinion is your own. Both of those statements are true, but they don’t particularly do much regarding this argument, see?Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  DW
3 years ago

Yes, “the blacks” is derogatory, not “black.” And I am very surprised at educated people not being aware of this.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

As DW said. It’s the difference between black as a noun and black as an adjective.Report

Joe
Joe
3 years ago

Ok, but can you tell us, uneducated (in my case a foreigner) why? You just assert it and it is not obvious at all what the difference is or what is so offensive about it besides that you say it is offensive (but I take it, the Euthyphro lesson is that someone saying that x is y.does not make x an y). If I am Brasilian, I am also a Brasilian. What’s bad about the second way, with a noun? What’s bad about saying, saying that “the Russians won the match against the Mexicans?” I am.seriously confused. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

It has nothing to do with education, but point of view, one which plenty of educated people do not share. As I said, I am a Jew and there is nothing wrong with referring to “American Jews” just as there is nothing wrong with referring to “American Blacks” or “Black Americans.”

This kind of petty wordsmanship so that you can call people racists and try to attain some sort of rhetorical advantage in arguments is a game that some people like to play, especially when the argument isn’t going their way. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people — including the educated — see it for what it is and ignore it.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

What is with your constant, and bizarre recourse to what you think the majority of people/commenters/movie critics/whoever think? Using the term “blacks” and “gays” is reductive and othering, and there’s a reason you don’t see it done often.

And you may want to tone down the constant personal attacks. You seem to combine a paranoia over being called racist, a kind of clueless white paternalism (“those ‘blacks’ just need some good role models like the fictionalized Cosbys”), and a fury at being disagreed with that is really offputting. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  D.C.
3 years ago

I don’t think your “fury” detector is very good if you are sensing it in my remarks. As for “personal attacks,” the only one I see engaging in them is you.
Ditto for the paranoia — it’s you, not others who are seeing racists everywhere, even in middle aged liberals like me, who are about as far from it as one can get.

Report

Eric Winsberg
Eric Winsberg
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

Joe,

There is no logical reason for any these things. There a million subtle implicatures loading into tiny little idiomatic differences. I think not even Daniel K would deny this one: its perfectly fine to call someone a “Jewish lawyer.” But call them a “Jew lawyer” and I guarantee you are going to be courting problems. Why? Just because. One can bicker about the details of all this, but I think the general phenomenon is indisputable: small grammatical differences can be huge difference makers with regard to whether or not one is signalling contempt for a particular group.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Eric Winsberg
3 years ago

OK, but the reasons can be stated, no? I take it that a “jew lawyer” is an expression that has been used pejoratively (probably late 19th to mid 20th century) of people, Jewish or not, who would work for Jewish people or something like that. So it’s a frozen expression that, as such, is now really a bad word. Perhaps the same applies to “jew” being used as an adjective (as opposed to noun). However, the differences D.C. is talking about are less clear to me, in particular since when I ask my jewish friends about being called “Jews”, none of them cared (the only people who cared were not Jewish). In any case, I think that what matters are substantive issues, intentions and actiosn, and not these small implicatures that if one were to observe at all times one would go crazy. Nbody can police oneself so much. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Eric Winsberg
3 years ago

Yes, and it’s quite clear from the context of the conversation and the rest of what I said that I was doing the exact opposite of signaling contempt. Report

Ash
Ash
3 years ago

“In any case, we take issue with treating moral considerations as automatically overriding aesthetic considerations. Aesthetic considerations aren’t negligible. Aesthetic value makes an important contribution to a well-lived human life, and great artworks aren’t fungible. There’s only one Hannah and Her Sisters, and engagement with it as an artwork can add significant, irreplaceable value to one’s life. This isn’t a small thing to give up, especially when it’s not clear what doing so will accomplish.”

This.Report